comfort women Japan apology
Lee Ok-sun poses in her room at the "House of Sharing", a special shelter for comfort women in Gwangju, South Korea Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

North Korea has heaped scorn on the landmark deal struck between South Korea and Japan to resolve the dispute surrounding Korean wartime sex slaves. Pyongyang called the deal a "humiliating agreement".

Deriding the accord — in which Tokyo issued an apology and agreed a £5.5m (‎$8.3m) payment to Korean women — Pyongyang said it missed holding the Japanese army responsible for the atrocities committed during its imperial period.

The issue of Korean sex slaves, often euphemistically dubbed "comfort women", has been a painful legacy between the two Asian powers — both vital allies of the US — for several decades. During the bloody colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula and other Asian regions, the Japanese Imperial Army is believed to have coerced no less than 200,000 Asian women, mostly Korean, to work as sex slaves. The latest agreement comes seven decades after the end of World War II, which also brought an end to Japan's colonial rule that lasted from 1910 to 1945.

The Association of Koreas in Japan for Peaceful Reunification, a pro-North Korean body, said: "For South Korea, there is no more humiliating diplomacy than to reach such a deal with Japan. South Korea views the issue as being resolved finally and irreversibly, even though Japan did not state its legal responsibility in the matter."

The association's statement was carried by Pyongyang-run Chosun Sinbo, a North Korean mouthpiece based in Japan. Pyongyang has been saying there are scores of sex slave victims in North Korea as well.

Meanwhile, China, a key North Korean ally and a country that also suffered under Japanese colonial rule, took a skeptical note while recognising the Tokyo-Seoul deal. Without welcoming the agreement, Chinese mouthpiece Global Times said in its editorial: "The comfort women deal has little influence on Northeast Asia. Japan's easing of tensions with South Korea doesn't mean it will gain more leverage in dealing with China.

"As the victim, China has been taking the initiative to resist Japan's denials of its history of aggression. South Korea is not a key factor in the Sino-Japanese relationship."

Japan and South Korea said the two countries enter a new era of ties through the agreement, which was also welcomed by the US. Secretary of State John Kerry said: "We believe this agreement will promote healing and help to improve relations between two of the United States' most important allies."